Louisiana Fracking Operations Suspect in Cow DeathsAug 23, 2010 | Parker Waichman LLP
Last year, the Natural Resources Defenses Council (NRDC) wrote about the deaths of 17 cows in Caddo Parish, Louisiana. The cows allegedly died after consuming fluid that spilled from a natural gas wellpad, said the NRDC.
The local sheriff's office was the identified first responder; however, it was not notified—learning about the problem from residents—resulting in a several hour delay before the Caddo Parish hazmat team was sent to the scene, noted the NRDC. The well involved was being hydraulically fractured.
Gas drilling via a process called hydraulic fracturing has been the subject of controversy across the nation. Critics of hydraulic fracturing, also called fracking, claim the chemicals used in the process, coupled with a lack of regulation, are endangering both the environment and the health of people who live near such drilling operations. Indeed, water contamination, air quality problems, and an increase in health ailments have been reported in several communities where fracking operations are prevalent.
Two companies involved in the fracking linked to the cow deaths were Superior Well Services and Schlumberger; at last reporting, the case was still under investigation by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, said the NRDC. Of note, a letter from Chesapeake Energy—a natural gas operator and owner of the well—wrote that "During a routine well stimulation/formation fracturing operation by Schlumberger for Chesapeake, it was observed that a portion of mixed 'frac' fluids, composed of over 99 percent freshwater, leaked from vessels and/or piping onto the well pad," quoted the NRDC.
Although the well owner’s letter indicates that less than one percent of the leaked fluid involved additives to the water, the fluid was sufficiently poisonous to kill the cows right after they consumed the fluids, said NRDC. Chesapeake Energy indicated it did not report the spill because the quantity involved was not reportable, added the NDRC.
Meanwhile, residents of Pavillion, Wyoming may be getting sick because of fracking. According to an Associated Press report, the group Earthworks Oil and Gas Accountability Project said that four out of five people who have returned a health survey reported symptoms that could be linked to gas drilling operations in and around Pavillion. In the past, residents of the central Wyoming town have complained that fracking polluted their well water.
In addition to respiratory problems, residents of Pavillion have also reported headaches, nausea, itchy skin, dizziness, and other ailments. Earthworks said in its press release that the ailments could be the result of exposure while people shower or wash dishes with contaminated water. The scientist conducting the survey told the Associated Press that illnesses reported are associated with the types of contaminants the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has identified in Pavillion well water.
As we’ve written, the Canadian drilling company EnCana began ramping up gas development in the Pavillion/Muddy Ridge field earlier this decade. In 2000, over 100 new wells were drilled, and two compressor plants—one large and one smaller facility—were built in the area.
Fracking is now used in about 90 percent of US gas and oil wells and involves injecting water, sand, and a cocktail of chemicals at high pressure into rock formations thousands of feet below the surface. Because the federal Energy Policy Act of 2005 exempted hydraulic fracturing from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act, shale gas drillers don’t have to disclose what chemicals they use. According to a report issued by the Environmental Working Group, fracking has been linked to drinking water contamination and property damage in Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wyoming.